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Friday, April 11, 2008

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Uprooted: After the Storm


Two nights ago, my preschooler suddenly got busy rounding up shoes and toys.

"It's time to go!" he announced jubilantly.

"Go where, sweetie?" I asked with considerably less energy. It was nearly ten o'clock—lately it's been nearly impossible to get him to go to sleep much earlier.

"To our old house!"

He said it with such joy and eagerness, I can't tell you how hard it was to break it to him that, no, we couldn't go back to the old house.

Weeping, he said, "But I want my old room!" Here at the condo, he shuttles back and forth between the twin mattresses on the floor of the larger of the two bedrooms and our double bed in the smaller—close quarters compared to our sprawling king-size, now propped up in the storage pod.

We are so grateful to have this space. But we are so very ready to vacate it.

Patrick hit the wall the other day, announcing between tight lips that he was "restless, irritable and discontent," before storming outside to smoke about five cigarettes in a row. We have been working literally back to back in the dining room that we've converted to office space. An oddly-placed hearth is the only partion between this and the family room. Patrick's desk abutts the rear of the television, turned on more than usual with the bad weather and no yard to speak of.

Last night, I sent my eldest son to his room after being contradicted one too many times yesterday. He silently fumed at me with a rage I had nearly forgotten a child could feel for a parent. I gave him a minute or two to himself and then went up to talk to him. He kept his back turned and his arms crossed over his chest, palms grasping opposite shoulders, like he always does when he is hurting.

I talked to his back for a few minutes about parental respect, and cultivating a positive attitude, and the place of civil disobedience in a benign dictatorship such as our own. He was impenetrable.

I turned the lecture off. "C'mere," I said, and managed to coax his armadillo-rolled body next to mine.

"Look," I said. "I know it's hard right now to be living in-between. I know you are probably missing home..."

My armadillo uncoiled against me and began to sob, the heaving, rushing sobs that come from grief that's been gathering deep in the gut.

There was little I could say. It was as if we were huddled in the closet again, waiting for the storm to pass over.

I told him the things I missed about our house: watching he and his brothers climb the Japanese maple, the hidden places in the yard where they dug and played. I promised him that he would soon be climbing the trees in our new yard, digging new holes. I half-heartedly began the speech that "home is where the heart is," then abandoned it, because it's bullshit. I've been uprooted enough myself to know that sometimes home is a physical place you need desperately to get back to.

Tell a banked fish that home is where the heart is.

So I shut up, and held him and stroked his sandy brown hair until it was over. Then I told him to fill the tub and take a nice long bubble bath, bedtime be damned.

This morning, the sun was shining like it meant it, for the first time in days. And not to diminish the seriousness of flood conditions in our state after the weather of the past few weeks, but I felt like a kid on Snow Day when I heard that the soccer fields would likely be underwater this weekend.

The household tension had broken up and moved on. All clear. I took my camera and went for a walk around the block to take some more pictures of the tornado damage of last Thursday night.

Ten tornados in all were spawned by that storm. If I had to draw you a map showing the most direct route from our condo to our new home, it would look like the storm path printed in the next day's paper. We were unbelievably lucky. Belinda, Kristen, and their families too.

I don't know that there is any force of nature more random and non-sensical than a twister. Just steps from where a concrete light pole lies uprooted, lacelike wisteria and azaleas bloom unperturbed. Hundred and fifty year-old pines and oaks are strewn about like weeds plucked from a lawn. On the same block, a compact disc I noticed tossed from a car onto the sidewalk last week hadn't moved more than a foot.

Why here? Why not there? Why not now? Why me? Every one of us, from three years old to forty-four has had their turn at asking why this week, with grace and maturity probably in inverse proportion to chronological age.

I like to think God has been sitting with us the whole time we've had our backs curled and hearts covered, aching for us, loving us in all our ungrateful, impatient, ornery-ness. Doting on each marvelous strand of hair, adoring each miraculous, shimmering blossom.


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Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

*sigh. Such perfectly good writing.

12:53 PM  
Blogger jennifer h said...

What Geoff said.

The state of being in transition is never easy on anyone. We're feeling it now, and have been for almost a year. I think we finally know what we're doing (moving back to Indiana, which isn't my first choice, but it's probably the best thing for us). But at this point, after scuttling several different plans over the last year, I'm certain my children are saying some child version of "what the hell?" Resilience, that's the lesson we're learning.

I hope the transition becomes easier for your family, and that you will feel settled before long. (and that the storm season dies down a bit...)

2:01 PM  
Blogger TC said...

I remember returning to my office just days after the Northridge earthquake in January of 1994. I picked my way around bits of plaster from the ceiling and some shattered glassware, only to discover that while an entire bookshelf one one side of my office had disgorged its contents, not only were the books on the other side fine, the Christmas cards I'd set up on those bookshelves were all still standing there, untouched, unmoved, despite the fact that they were made of nothing more than folded cardboard, easily knocked offer by an exhalation. It made absolutely no sense...but it did teach me the true meaning of the word 'random.'

3:14 PM  
Blogger Dutch said...

that was a great post.

11:04 PM  
Blogger beardogco said...

"... I've been uprooted enough myself to know that sometimes home is a physical place you need desperately to get back to.

Tell a banked fish that home is where the heart is."

WOW - right where I am and so hard to explain to the one I love and the one who loves me. Thank you for giving me some "new" words.

4:35 AM  
Blogger katie said...

So glad you are all safe. I watched the spreading of the storm with all fingers and toes crossed.
Hope the remainder of your transition/move goes smoothly.

4:54 PM  
Blogger cce said...

I spent an entire year convincing my kids that we were not going "home" again after we moved to Massachusetts from Florida. We left family there, the house they were born in, it was the right move at the right time but it was also very, very hard.Wishing you all strength in the space between permanence.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love the idea of the sun shining "like it meant it". Beautiful post.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

My two-year old comments, frequently, that she'd like to go to our old house. Ours, however, is still standing and we left it by choice, so those conversations are a lot less heart-wrenching.

So glad that your family (as Belinda's, and K's) are safe, and huddling together like so many blossoms.

4:49 PM  
Blogger HRH said...

so sorry.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

wait, wait! I think maybe some of you are reading this post in isolation from the others and concluding that we lost our home in the tornados.

backstory for newcomers: we sold our home recently, and are living in temporary accomodations while the new house is getting painted and such.

All three houses made it through the storms intact. :-)

10:06 PM  
Blogger beardogco said...


I'm writing a post for my blog on the concept of home...

I would like to either trackback/link to this post - or quote or ??? but don't want to do either without your ok or qualifiers and draft approval.

My email address is ann at beardogco dot com.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Gypsy at Heart said...

What Geoff and Jennifer but especially what Cce siad for all the obvious reasons. Also, you handled the situation with your son beautifully. I'd tell you you're a good mother but you don't the confirmation. It is something you already know. Glad to know you are all safe.

9:01 PM  

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